Why do Facebook Ads not take me seriously?
It's not exactly a secret that women ages 18-55 are a sought-after consumer demographic. According to a non-profit report issued by the YMCA, "U.S. women spent some $7 billion a year, or an average of about $100 each, on cosmetics and beauty products." So, it's no surprise that social networking sites like Facebook want to capitalize on our deep pockets and obsession with appearance.
I'm not against consumerism or advertising. Hell, Google pays me for blogging using ad money, so I'm not about to bite the hand that feeds me. Online social networking allows companies the unique ability to gather demographic information (given willingly by the users!) that they can use to deliver targeted ads. I actually think it's a fairly useful tool, and it should solve one of my biggest pet peeves of advertising: being bombarded by ads for things I don't need (vacuum cleaners) or care for (Monday night football). Honestly, the idea of having a company know enough about me to provide me with advertisements for things that I might WANT is fairly appealing.
Here's what Facebook knows about me: I am single, and 31 years old. I am female. I've been known to date men.
When you sign up for Facebook, you enter a good deal of information about yourself. You don't HAVE to provide information about your sexual orientation or marital status, but I wasn't really thinking about the implications of all that when I signed up. Since I wasn't interested in dating via Facebook, I said I was interested in men and women for friendship, dating, etc.
And although I didn't provide this info to Facebook, I also admit the following:
- I do meet and date people online.
- I could stand to lose a few pounds.
Then why am I so irked every time I see a Facebook ad that asks me to try Oprah's amazing diet, or meet handsome and professional men online?
Because these are the only ads that Facebook showed me. Oh, there are variations on the theme:
- Over 30 and lonely?
- Get wooed by handsome men! (ad always features a picture of the exact type of man that I do NOT want to be wooed by)
- Dr. Oz's Diet!
- Muffin Top? Lose ten pounds in a week!
If these ads were mixed in with a variety of other ads for things like I want to buy, I'd probably have no problem with them. For instance, I'm in the market for a flat-panel television, and I'm not really sure how to shop around for one. I've been thinking of treating myself to a day spa in the Seattle area, but would like some sort of package deal that makes it worth the time, and money. Oh, and I'm always in the market for a pair of black, knee-high boots.
If Facebook cared to dig any deeper in my profile, they would notice that I belong to a fair number of liberal groups on through their site, and might start pushing Obama stickers towards me in great fistfuls. Or maybe they would see how often I am listening to music on Pandora, and casually throw the occasional concert tickets ad my way. They might notice from my status update references and fan club membershipts that I have a very serious crush on Hiro Nakamura. Couldn't one of the dating ads at least point me towards a site filled with nerdy Japanese guys who can bend time and space?
But no - it was all diet and douchey-looking dudes.
Why is this? I NEVER click on these ads. Do other women in my demographic click on these ads, thus giving Facebook the impression that I will as well? Are there simply no other ads that would apply to a 31 year-old single woman?
A few months ago, Facebook started allowing users to start voting on the ads that they see. You can give a thumbs-up to an ad that you think is particularly interesting to you, and give a reason (good offer, relevant to me, etc.) or give a thumbs down and select a reason for that (irrelevant, uninteresting, pornographic).
I didn't enter my demographic information into my Facebook profile with the idea that I would meet a life partner through it. I ignore friend invites from people that I don't know, and for me, Facebook was simply a good way to keep in touch with my family members (Facebook is huge in Saskatchewan, don't ask me why). Of course, I know that most social networking sites make their money from ads (as do bloggers, for that matter), but when I clicked "Female" and "Single", it didn't occur to me that Facebook was going to assume that I was a lonely female version of Jabba the Hutt, longing to marry a single lawyer (see below) and produce little Jabbas.
Despite the fact that I don't click these dating ads, and give them a thumbs down every single time I see them, Facebook continued to bombard me with them. As if that wasn't bad enough, Facebook ads apparently started to believe that the reason I wasn't clicking them was because I was getting jilted by my current lover.
I'm well aware that the minute a woman on Facebook chances her 'status' from 'single' to 'engaged', she begins seeing ads for wedding photographers, wedding dresses, and of course, pre-wedding diets. And if she gets hitched and changes her status from 'engaged' to 'married', it's All Baby, All The Damn Time ads.
Now, as a woman with a set of ovaries, I'm not going to lie and say that I have no interest in getting married or having kids. These things are important to lots of women. But they're not ALL that's important to single women the world over. There are other things that we spend money on, like athletic shoes. And cars. We tend to buy lots of books; according to a study in 2007, the average American woman who belongs to a social network spends about $500 a year on books.
Why have I never seen an advertisement for a book when I'm logged into Facebook?
Hey, I care about health and weight loss, and I write about these topics myself. But I just can't get into fad diets, or the latest "miracle" food that supposedly burns fat directly off of my thighs, or an acai berry cleanse. I can cleanse using kale, thank you very much.
A while ago, after getting incredibly fed-up with the barrage of "LET SEXY MALE LAWYERS WOO YOU!" ads that Facebook continued to display, I started to wonder if all women were seeing similar advertisements. Because Facebook tracks your married status and announces it to all of your friends, I didn't want to announce that I was engaged or married, so I settled on becoming a Facebook lesbian. What's the first ad that I saw as soon as I came out?
An ad for small business services.
What, do lesbians own an inordinate number of businesses or something? Are they crazy about business cards and pamphlets? Why would a straight woman who owns her own business not see this ad? Seriously, if this is what it takes for Facebook to consider me a consumer with needs beyond finding a man and dieting like a supermodel, sign me up.
Sure, there were some "Find the woman of your dreams"-type ads and the requisite Olivia Cruises ads, but they were mixed in with a good deal of ads for interesting stuff - political ads, for example. I don't know if this is normal, but I stopped seeing weight-loss ads altogether. Either Facebook's algorithm seemed to realize how annoyed I was with the ads, or lesbians are all much more fit than heterosexual women.
I asked some of my friends to log into Facebook and take screenshots of the ads that they were shown on a regular basis. Men over 40 years of age seem to get lots of offers to earn money by filling out surveys. Also, ads for a "rolling razor". My friend Mike, who is over 40 and single, seems to get a lot of book ads, which annoys me to know end. Sure, he's a voracious reader, but c'mon. He also gets Obama button offers and information on local real estate firms. Why doesn't Facebook assume that he, too, is desperate to get married?
My married girlfriend Shannon, who is my age, sees ads for albums by someone named Amy Mcdonald. She also gets ads from her alma mater.
My coworker just got married last week, so Facebook ads now implore her to check her credit score so that she can buy a house. Also, they apparently want her to start reproducing ("Enter to win free diapers!").
A very smart gal I know who refused to enter any demographic information into her Facebook profile gets a whole range of ads - Facebook doesn't realize that she's a single woman and thus isn't able to insult her intelligence or consumer habits. Yet.
After weeks and weeks of voting down every single dating or weight-loss and dating ad shown to me (I finally just decided to remove my marital status and sexual orientation from Facebook altogether - it's really none of their business), I'm finally starting to see ads for Netflix, like the one below:
Well, it's a start.